Christmas tree lot celebrates 40 years in Santa Paula – VC Star

Forty years ago Dave Wills started his Christmas tree business in Santa Paula selling just a single tree. This year, he’s expected to sell 1,000.
Wills, 65, is the owner of Dave’s Trees, also known as Dave’s Fresh & Fragrant Oregon Grown Christmas Trees.
The business, located at 10th Street and Railroad Avenue in downtown Santa Paula, has remained in the current space across from the Museum of Ventura County’s Agriculture Museum for more than 20 years.
Upon arrival, speakers playing blues musician Keb’ Mo’ or R & B group Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings typically greet visitors. There’s an outdoor fire pit where  There’s an outdoor fire pit where Christmas shoppers warm up, eat the hazelnuts that are provided and on some days, listen to live music.
The lot opened Dec. 2 this year and Wills plans to stay open until he runs out of trees.
“That seems to be earlier and earlier every single year,” he said. His formula has been “good trees and good prices and good friendships” along with growing families that keep him in business.
More Santa Paula news:Historic Santa Paula home damaged in fire
Wills, a 1975 Santa Paula High School graduate, lives with his 89-year-old mother Donna Wills during the month of December while he sells the trees.
After graduation, when he didn’t get into Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, he moved to Corvallis, Oregon, to attend Oregon State University. He earned a degree in general agriculture in 1990 and soon learned that the top crop in Benton County, where the university is located, was Christmas trees. He approached a grower there and eventually was able to make a business out of it.
“I come here to mainly spend Christmas with my mom and my family,” Wills said. “That’s how this vision started.”
Popular trees include the Douglas fir, noble fir and Nordmann fir, with the latest trend toward the latter two.
“I’m almost out of the Douglas fir. They’re the little bushy guys. They have a better aroma but they dry out faster. That’s a disadvantage,” Wills said.
The noble firs and Nordmann firs “hold their needles better, don’t try out as fast, but also don’t have as much aromatics,” he said.
He transports all the trees from Oregon to the Santa Paula lot and is able to find more trees as needed from other local lots.
“Look at my lot. It’s decimated,” Wills said with a laugh. “You’re not supposed to have empty buckets as we say. You’re supposed to have all trees all over them.” He was trying to find more trees on Friday.
Artificial trees are looking more and more like real trees and are very popular but Wills said there are plenty of reasons why he’ll still stay in business. He said the smell of a real Christmas tree and reasonable prices keep customers coming.
Prices range from $27 for a “tabletop” Christmas tree to $300 for a 15-foot-tree, Wills said. Customers spend an average of $55 on a tree, he said.
He never opens in November because of the potential heat and wind locally. He always opens the first week of December.
“The trees are used to winter and cold. … The trees can really get dried out. Sometimes it’s pushing 75 degrees and hot east wind. That’s brutal on anything that’s a plant that’s been cut,” Wills said.
Years ago he had other Christmas lots in Ojai and Ventura but he decided to close them when they weren’t making enough money to justify their cost, and it was hard to manage three lots.
Besides the Christmas tree lot, Wills owns Freshops, a business that sells raw hops located in Philomath, Oregon, where he lives. He provides the hops to local breweries, including one he used to own called Oregon Trail Brewery.
Wills said he plans to stay in business as long as he is able but takes it year by year.
Customers and employees on Friday said they enjoyed the trees and Wills’ outgoing personality.
Fabian Ortiz, 44, of Santa Paula purchased a small tree. He has been buying Christmas trees here for 20 years.
“The way he is with all the people … he’s very friendly. Sometimes when people come short of money, he’s like, ‘Nah, don’t worry about it,'” Ortiz said.
Karen Fort, 81, of Santa Paula said health issues prevented her from coming to the lot sooner, but she had been a customer for the past three years since she moved to the city.
“They’re very friendly and they’re very helpful and they make good quality trees,” she said.
Lot manager Sam Jackson, 33, lives on site in a trailer with his wife Selene Arana Jackson and handles the day-to-day business of opening up the lot, maintaining the trees, providing security and anything else needed.
Wills let him get married on the site last year on Dec. 18.
“It was a great wedding. We left the lot open and everything. People could still come and shop and stop by for a wedding,” said Sam Jackson, an Elko, Nevada resident born and raised in Santa Paula.
Wes Woods II covers West County for the Ventura County Star. Reach him at wesley.woodsii@vcstar.com, 805-437-0262 or @JournoWes.